Cars to Die (cast) For


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For the past decade, architect Eric Subert has been living in the Hawai‘i Loa home he’s always envisioned for himself.

By the time Rick Lloyd was just 6 years old, he already had a preternatural ability that quickly became his father’s favorite way to impress the neighbors. The elder Lloyd would place him on the porch with his back facing the street, and they’d wait for a car to drive by. When it did, Lloyd could tell everyone what make of car had passed—without even seeing it.

“I could tell by the sound of them,” Lloyd explains.

“I was car crazy since day one, and I have been that way my whole life,” he says. “My mother and father said that my first word wasn’t ‘mama’ or ‘dada,’ it was ‘car.’ That’s what they always said—I don’t know if that’s true or not.”

Indeed, cars have been an enduring obsession throughout his life. At 14, before he was even old enough to have a driver’s license, he got a job selling Studebakers. Later, he chose to study mechanical engineering in college because he initially wanted to be a car designer. He has owned 36 cars throughout his life so far. And today, his Honolulu home is filled with a sprawling collection of model cars that he’s been cultivating for nearly 60 years.

“Well, I am a car freak, you know? If you’re a car freak, what better thing to have than this?” he says of his collection.

“I am a little old for toys, but I am in my second childhood. The toys in the second childhood are much better than the first one.”

Lloyd, who formerly was an engineer at Pearl Harbor Shipyard, has close to a couple hundred models—more than 100 at 1:18 scale, and about 65 smaller pieces, and then a few tiny cars made of pewter. There’s even two large models that he built himself: a 1932 Rolls-Royce and a 1932 Alfa Romeo, both of which are incredibly detailed, with hundreds of parts (and hours worth of work) in the wheels alone. This has not been a cheap hobby, he admits. Typical models run about $100 each; his most expensive was $500.

He keeps the majority of the collection inside a series of lit display cases—which he handcrafted—that runs along the wall through the dining room and past the kitchen, with a few others scattered throughout the rest of the house. He even has created dioramas to go with some of the cars— one is in an auto shop being worked on, there is a Cadillac hearse that has a coffin next to it, and a Ford pickup has got a toolkit.

“Did you notice this one right here?” Lloyd asks excitedly, pulling down a car from the case.

“And I recently just got this one,” he says, pointing to another, a 1959 Dodge. “Look at the quality of this thing! The steering wheel turns the wheels. The seats roll out like they did in 1959.”

The collection is versatile, a mix of new cars and old—the oldest is an 1894 De Dion-Buton—and includes a number of models with unusual features, like the one that looks more like an airplane, or the Mercedes where the doors open upward. He’s had very little forethought in building the collection, he admits. He simply goes for whatever car happens to catch his eye.

But, these days, he has to be conscious of what does catch his eye, as pretty much all of his storage space is filled. Many cars already occupy the space above the display cases; at this point, if he wants a new model, he’d have to get rid of another one—which, of course, he doesn’t want to.

“I picked every one of these models because I really, really liked them, and I still do,” he says, “and I don’t want to part with any of them.”

Lloyd can rattle off facts about a number of the cars upon which his models are based—like the fact that the 1894 De Dion-Buton was one of the first automobiles, or that the 1937 Citro?n was among the first cars with a retractable hardtop. His is an encyclopaedic knowledge of cars, and his home also is filled with other car paraphernalia—posters of Studebakers, and every single issue of Automobile Quarterly from 1962 to 2012.

Lloyd’s passion for cars seems to mystify even him. He can’t really explain the pull that cars have over him—but then again, as he aptly points out, why does anybody like anything?

“I am car crazy. I have just been car crazy my whole damn life. Why am I like that? I don’t know—I just am,” he says with a laugh.

He can’t remember exactly when his car obsession began to manifest itself in model collecting, but he estimates that it stretches back to the early 1960s, around the same time he moved to O‘ahu from Maryland. He marvels at the workmanship and intricate details that many of the models entail—like the 1932 Cadillac with working headlights, taillights and brake lights—but part of the captivation for Lloyd certainly seems to be nostalgic. Many of the models in his collection are loaded with personal significance, serving as a sort of autobiography. He has owned or encountered many of the cars that comprise his collection.

There are a lot of the Studebakers that were in the shop during his teenage years as a car salesman, for instance. Then there is the 1950 Studebaker “Bullet Nose” Champion that he got his driver’s license in, the 1969 Jaguar XKE he owned later, and two BMW convertibles that he once had. And then there are the two cars that he owns now: a 1949 Studebaker Commander Convertible and a limited edition 2003 Chrysler Dream Cruiser, both of which he had handmade in Brazil based on pictures of his actual vehicles.

Even though he’s got so many models, he doesn’t even hesitate when asked which is his favorite: That honor goes to a 1948 Ford convertible. His father had owned a similar make—his was a ’48 two-door sedan—and it’s the car in which Lloyd learned to drive.

“That is what he taught me how to drive in,” he explains.

“Feel the seats—push down on the cushions,” he says as he gently opens the door of the model. “They’re soft. That’s just the way they were!”

While he has models from every era, he admits he is partial to cars from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s—the cars that were on the road during his youth.

“An awful lot of the cars that I have here were cars that I lusted after when I was a kid—and now I’ve got them,” he says with a laugh.

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